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Shuffleboard courts take center stage once again

The downtown land faces questions of how it could best be used. Seniors vow to defend their recreation spot.

By BRIDGET HALL GRUMET

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 31, 2000


INVERNESS -- For about 20 years there has been a piece of prime downtown property that development-minded people couldn't keep their eyes off of: the shuffleboard courts next to City Hall.

Members of the Inverness Shuffleboard Club have been gliding their pucks across those courts since 1967, successfully thwarting several proposals over the years to pave a parking lot or street over the boards.

But with the downtown area undergoing several renovation efforts over the next few years, there is renewed discussion about finding a more widespread use for that land.

"That space is simply underutilized now," said Winston Perry, president of the New Inverness Olde Towne Association. "As part of the downtown area, something nice should be done with it."

Some merchants have floated the idea of covering the courts with a bandstand that could host concerts and other special events.

"So many people have expressed a desire for something that more people could enjoy, such as a bandstand," Mayor Joyce Rogers said. "Just judging from the people who have come to see me, I get the feeling we have an overwhelming number of people who would much prefer a band shelter."

But the City of Inverness, which has first dibs on the courts because it owns the property, has its own idea of what should go there.

Members of City Council last week looked at a conceptual drawing of a new, two-story City Hall just east of the current City Hall. The old building would be torn down and replaced with grass and trees.

In that plan, the shuffleboard courts would be removed to make way for a retention pond.

"For all intents and purposes, I don't know if you'd want something like (shuffleboard courts) behind the new building," City Manager Frank DiGiovanni told City Council members. "I'm just asking the question."

Some of the Inverness Shuffleboard Club's 60 members were ready with their own answers.

"I think they should leave (the courts)," club treasurer Joyce Sumner, 64, said. "That's about the only thing in town for senior citizens."

Long-time player Dick DeWitt, 73, said the shuffleboard courts provide a valuable stretch of green space, as well as customers, for the downtown area.

"We have a tournament there on Wednesdays and we bring people from outside the city," he said. "Most of them will stay and eat there. We do contribute to the downtown area."

DeWitt said the only alternative site, the six shuffleboard courts at Whispering Pines Park, won't do. Those courts have been vandalized, lack lighting for nighttime games, and have no safe place for players to leave their equipment, he said.

City parks director Pati Smith agreed that the Whispering Pines courts need new scoreboards and other improvements, but she said with some work, the courts could be an acceptable alternative.

"It could be easily done out here (at Whispering Pines) with some improvements," she said.

Club member Art Thurman, 92, has defended the shuffleboard courts from encroachment before, and he's ready to do it again.

Since the early 1980s, Thurman said, city officials have talked periodically about putting parking spaces over those courts. The Bank of Inverness even lobbied a couple of years ago to pave a drive-through over the land where the courts sit, he said.

Thurman said he would fight the latest efforts just as he challenged the ones in the past, by reminding officials of the need for green space and the right the shuffleboarders have to be there.

"I remember one time when they were talking about building a parking lot there, I told them: "Gentleman, you'll never touch one shovel-full of dirt of this park,' " Thurman said. "And they didn't."

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